What others say: DEA to finally tighten oversight of opioid manufacturing

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced that it will more closely monitor the number of opioid pills manufactured annually.

This is welcome news in a state hit hard by the opioid crisis. The DEA should have been looking at these numbers all along.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 63,600 overdose deaths nationwide in 2016, with opioids as the main driver of such deaths.

Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016 – prescription opioids accounted for 40 percent of the total, the CDC reported.

In fact, opioid overdose deaths were more than five times higher in 2016 than in 1999, the CDC reported.

Why it took the DEA so long to take action is troubling, but the state and nation owes some gratitude to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for filing a suit against the agency, something he said spurred the DEA’s action.

According to Morrisey, the DEA’s finalized rule comes less than four months after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the DEA to review its policy – a directive he said was issued hours before a deadline in his lawsuit against the DEA, The Journal reported earlier this year.

“We must do everything to reduce the over supply of opioid painkillers,” Morrisey said in a press release. “The reforms accomplished through this rule and our lawsuit are the first steps toward changing a fundamentally flawed system that for too long placed industry wants over the legitimate medical need and contributed to increased crime, higher medical costs, strained emergency services, greater reliance on foster care and far too many senseless deaths.”

The DEA’s new rule includes steps to account for pill diversion, increases input from stakeholders in the pill production business and sets up hearings when a state requests the DEA to consider evidence of excess opioid supplies.

For those among us who are suffering from debilitating and devastating diseases, pain medication can be life-saving. But statistics reveal opioid medications were being grossly and negligently abused. The DEA, as the nation’s illegal drug enforcement agency, should’ve ramped up its efforts long ago to help squash the epidemic.

It shouldn’t have taken threats of a lawsuit.

Although opioids can be legally obtained by prescription, what was taking place in West Virginia and across the nation was, in many circumstances, no different than illicit drug sales.

According to the CDC, street prices for controlled prescription opioids are typically 5 to 10 times higher than their retail value – with steady increases with the relative strength of the drug fueling the market for prescription medications diverted into illegal channels.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail has reported that drug wholesalers shipped 780 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia from 2007 to 2012.

In a Journal story published in April it was reported that the DEA’s rule aims to strengthen controls over diversion of controlled substances and make other improvements in the quota management regulatory system for the production, manufacturing and procurement of controlled substances, according to a copy of the DEA’s rule, as then proposed.

The goal is to minimize the number of opioids being manufactured each year.

“The proposed rule change is crucial to end pill dumping in West Virginia,” Morrisey said in the April Journal article.

The epidemic has already made a lasting impact on the state. But the DEA rule could prevent future addicts from taking their first pill.

Thank Morrisey for prompting action the DEA should’ve taken in the first place.

—The Journal of Martinsburg, West Virginia, July 15

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